Tag Archives: Zsolt Bayer

Zsolt Bayer, the purveyor of hate, in his own words

Decent, democratic Hungarians are stunned. The hate-filled, racist, anti-Semitic journalistic hack, Zsolt Bayer, on the recommendation of Zoltán Balog, received the third highest decoration the government can bestow on people of great achievement. János Lázár presented Bayer with the “Hungarian Middle Cross.”

The independent media could scarcely find words to display its disgust with the government, but some headline writers rose to the occasion. One headline read “By mistake Zsolt Bayer received the cross of the knight [lovagkereszt] instead of the Swastika.” Swastika in Hungarian is “horogkereszt.” A blog writer at Népszabadság titled his piece “The knight of the Godfather” since Viktor Orbán and Bayer are old friends and fellow founders of Fidesz.

Instead of trying to describe Bayer’s “literary output,” I think it’s best to let Bayer speak for himself. I will be only his English voice. In the past, every time I wrote about Bayer I always said how difficult it is to translate his prose. For starters, Hungarian obscenity beats American obscenity by a mile. Moreover, I hate to repeat this smut.

The first time I discussed Bayer at some length was in January 2011 shortly after András Schiff, the world-renowned pianist, wrote a letter to the editor of The Washington Post. Bayer retorted with an article titled “The same stench.” Here are a few lines from that piece.

A stinking excrement called something like Cohen from somewhere in England writes that ‘foul stench wafts’ from Hungary. Cohen, and Cohn-Bendit, and Schiff. Népszava appears with the red figure of the man with the hammer and demands freedom of the press. Most people think that this is something new and that war like that didn’t take place before. Nonsense. There is nothing new under the sun. Unfortunately, they were not all buried up to their necks in the forest of Orgovány.

A brief explanation. Orgovány, a small village on the Great Plains, was the site of massacres committed by the leaders of the Hungarian White Terror in 1919-1920. Most of the victims were Jewish. In plain language, Bayer is expressing his sorrow that not all the Jews were killed in those days.

Zsolt Bayer, leading the Peace March in Hungarian Guard uniform

Zsolt Bayer, leading the Peace March in Hungarian Guard uniform

A year later he got angry because Ulrike Lunacek, an Austrian MP in the European Parliament, criticized Hungary. Bayer, who at the time had a program on Echo TV, had the following to say about Lunacek in the company of two other right-wingers:

Then comes a half-witted [The Germans translated it as ‘brain amputeed’] impetiginous lying idiot, Ulrike Lunacek, and I expressed myself delicately … The whole rotten filthy lie from the mouth of a rotten filth bag.” In choice Hungarian: “Csak jön egy olyan agyament ótvar hazug idióta, Ulrike Lunacek, és milyen finoman fejeztem ki magam. … Az egész egy rohadt szemét hazugság egy rohadt szemét szájából.”

In 2013 Bayer wrote another hateful piece in which, although he didn’t use the word “Jew” or “Jewish,” anyone who is familiar with Bayer’s style and way of thinking knows whom he has in mind when he talks about those who have been doing their best to ruin the white Christian race ever since the 1919 Soviet Republic, which in far-right circles is considered to be a “Jewish affair.” Those who are antagonistic toward Hungary organize themselves “in packs and attack their victims like loathsome drooling hyenas.” And he continues: “For you only death is the proper punishment. Because you believe in death, in public executions while your victims are left alone, go bankrupt, their friends deny them, they lose their jobs, and come to a sorry end. This is your goal.” Their sins are immeasurable and they will be punished. Because these mysterious people don’t realize “what monster [they] are trying to resuscitate. In fact, [they] woke him up already.” All that sounds pretty threatening, but then comes the twist:

You don’t foresee yet that it will be only we who raise our voices in your defense. We, the marked victims. We are the only ones to whom you can turn for help. It will be only we who will hide you. Because we are good to the point of ruining ourselves. And take this all very seriously. You miserable ones.

In January 2013, in Berlin, Zoltán Balog proudly outlined the accomplishments of the Orbán government as far as its Roma strategy was concerned. Bayer wrote that

a significant portion of the Gypsies are unfit for coexistence. Not fit to live among human beings. These people are animals and behave like animals. … If he finds resistance, he kills. He voids where and when it occurs to him. … He wants what he sees. If he doesn’t get it, he takes it and he kills…. From his animal skull only inarticulate sounds come out and the only thing he understands is brute force… There shouldn’t be animals. No way. This must be solved, immediately and in any way. [In Hungarian: “Ezt meg kell oldani–de azonnal és bárhogyan.”]

This particular article was deemed to be racist, and the state media authority fined Magyar Hírlap, where it appeared, 200,000 forints. Since then Magyar Hírlap had to pay another fine, this time 250,000 forints, because he called all refugee boys over the age of 14 “potential terrorists.”

When it comes to the migrants, Bayer usually dwells on horror stories, like the IKEA murder in Sweden, which then gives him an opening to blame liberalism for being the source of all the trouble. For example, he expresses his sorrow that the two suspects cooperated with the police because otherwise “the police could have shot them as one does a mad dog.” Now the Swedes have two murderers from Eritrea and two dead white Swedes. “Surely, the exchange was worth it. Long live liberalism! Long live human rights! Except when we talk about the rights of the European, white, Christian race.” Here Bayer uses the word “rassz,” which is practically never used in this sense in modern Hungarian. Bayer’s conclusion is that Europe must be defended. “It must be freed from this horror. If necessary with arms in hand. If everything remains the same, there will be bloodshed. These hordes believe that only the blood of Europeans can be shed.”

Perhaps the most often quoted Bayer lines were written in 2006 after the tragedy that occurred in Olaszliszka when a Roma girl stepped in front of a car driven by a school teacher. The child wasn’t hurt. The man stopped when a group of about twenty men and women dragged him out of the car and beat him to death in the presence of his two young daughters. Bayer wrote at the time:

Anyone in this country who runs over a Gypsy kid acts wisely if he doesn’t for a minute contemplate stopping. In the case of driving over a Gypsy kid, we should step on the gas. If in the meantime Gypsies surround the car, we should step on the gas even harder. Those we run over are unlucky. Leaving the scene at the greatest speed, we should call the ambulance from the car and we should stop at the next police station and turn ourselves in. (Unfortunately, I know that this scenario cannot take place because if someone runs over someone, especially a child, one must stop. So, we will stop. But we will have to do something. It is a good idea to get a gun before leaving. If we hit a child, let’s stop, and if the animals begin to gather we should use our weapon without hesitation.)

I don’t always have the stomach to read Bayer’s articles that appear in Magyar Hírlap and lately on his own blog as well. I’m sure that others could come up with hundreds more quotations that would further demonstrate that this man’s decoration by the Orbán government is a disgrace.

As for the charge of anti-Semitism, analysts pussyfoot around when it comes to the Orbán government’s attitude toward the country’s Jewish citizens and their role in Hungary’s history. I don’t think that, with the decision to award Bayer this high honor, there can be any question where Viktor Orbán stands on this issue. Bayer’s decoration must have been cleared with Orbán himself, and he must have known that this move will be interpreted as the government’s approval of Bayer’s racism and anti-Semitism. It seems that Orbán doesn’t care what the world thinks of him and his regime. Bayer’s decoration strikes me as a purposeful provocation not only of the Jewish community at home and abroad but of democratic communities in Europe and the Americas.

August 19, 2016

Pope Francis and his Hungarian critics

Traditionally, the Hungarian Catholic Church has been led by extremely conservative prelates known for their symbiotic relationship with the state. This conservatism solidified during the communist period, when the church was cut off from all the modernizing trends that were taking place in the West.

After the return of parliamentary democracy in 1990, the Catholic Church allied itself with the governing right-of-center MDF, a Christian Democratic party. On the other side were the former communists who now called themselves socialists and the liberals with their unacceptable ideas of a secular state and their insistence on limiting the church’s role to spiritual matters. The left was obviously no place for the conservative church hierarchy. So, after the demise of MDF the Catholic Church became a steadfast supporter of Fidesz. Priests delivered propaganda sermons on Sundays before the 1998 election, urging their flock to vote for the right party. When Fidesz lost the election in 2002, they worked on the party’s behalf throughout the party’s eight lean years. In 2010 the Catholic Church became one of the greatest beneficiaries of the Orbán government’s largess.

Pope Francis

Their support for Fidesz is unwavering, even (or especially) when it comes to the refugee question. While Christian teachings would call for charity toward those in need, the Church’s humanitarian activities were minimal when thousands of refugees were stuck in Hungary for a while without any government help. Moreover, the two largest denominations, the Catholic and the Hungarian Reformed, have not criticized the hate campaign being waged against the refugees. On the contrary, some of the prelates have spread the most incredible theories about the people who are fleeing civil war and Islamic terrorism.

There are quite a few arch-conservatives in the Conference of Bishops, but perhaps the most extreme when it comes to the refugee question is Gyula Márfi, archbishop of Veszprém. In his opinion, these men, women, and children are not refugees. They come to Europe as conquerors. Millions of Muslims realize that Europe abandoned its Christian faith or, as Márfi puts it, “Europe removed the gentle yoke of Christ” and thus became a target for the yoke of Mohamed. He doesn’t care what Pope Francis says about Christian love and charity. Francis comes from Argentina and therefore knows very little about Europe.

This was Márfi’s opinion in October 2015, and with time he has become increasingly confident that he was correct in his appraisal of the situation. He even added that “migration doesn’t have causes but only purposes.” Anyone who denies this is either lying or gravely mistaken. For many of us this kind of language sounds crazy, but we mustn’t forget that Viktor Orbán himself often talked about the possibly organized nature of the refugee flow.

Not all Catholic bishops are as outspoken as Márfi, but he was not the only one who criticized Pope Francis for his welcoming attitude toward the refugees. László Kiss-Rigó, another conservative or right-wing bishop, told a journalist of The Washington Post that “they’re not refugees. This is an invasion.” He added that he was in total agreement with the prime minister. The pope, by contrast, “doesn’t know the situation.” Later, Kiss-Rigó tried to blame The Washington Post for distorting his words.

Gyula Márfi, Archbishop of Vác

Gyula Márfi, Archbishop of Vác

The relationship between the Hungarian Catholic Church and Pope Francis is strained. Most of the Hungarian church leaders think that he is naïve or, worse, perhaps even a liberal-socialist misfit within the body of the universal Catholic Church. And then came a conversation between the pope and journalists on the plane between Krakow and Rome after he spent five days in Poland at the end of July, which seems to have further upset the Hungarian clerics as well as the Hungarian political right. The conversation took place after the murder of an 85-year-old priest in western France. The pope said: “I don’t like to talk about Islamic violence because every day when I look at the papers I see violence here in Italy—someone killing his girlfriend, someone killing his mother-in-law. These are baptized Catholics. If I speak of Islamic violence, I have to speak of Catholic violence. Not all Muslims are violent.”

The first reaction in the Hungarian media came from Zsolt Bayer, the foul-mouthed journalist who works for the far-right Magyar Hírlap but also writes a blog in which this article appeared. Bayer was one of the founders of the youth organization out of which Fidesz emerged. In fact, he is the proud owner of the #5 membership card. I believe Kövér’s is #1 and Orbán’s #2. In this article Bayer tore into the pope, who in his opinion is “either a senile old fool who is totally unsuitable to be the pope or a scoundrel. Momentarily, I can’t think of a third possibility.”

A day after Bayer’s post the pro-government Magyar Idők published an article about the pope’s controversial statement but opted not to express any opinion of its own. The journalist simply quoted two English-language publications, The American Conservative and The Catholic Herald. 888.hu was less circumspect when it made fun of the pope, who thinks that “Christ might live in one of the rejected migrants.” 888.hu quoted Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, according to whom a war of religion is being waged at the moment. Islam, he claims, calls “for our destruction.” Graham argues that “what’s sin in Europe, is virtue” in the Islamic world. So, the war is on. The pope is wrong.

György Stoffán, a far-right journalist with a dubious biography in Wikipedia, went so far as to demand the pope’s resignation. According to Stoffán, Pope Francis is “not a bad man, just not a European and not a Catholic.” The pope is not only being manipulated by Jews but is a Jew himself, a son of Jewish refugees from Italy. Yes, Stoffán belongs to the lunatic fringe, but it is enough to do a quick internet search to discover that he has company: “Pope Francis is a Jewish impostor,” “biblical prophecy from book of Obadiah reveals pope’s shocking Jewish agenda.” These stories are most likely inspired by Pope Francis’s renunciation of Jewish conversion at the end of 2015. Fundamentalists immediately protested, saying that the Vatican is wrong because Jews do need Jesus. Some of these fundamentalists even said that his teachings are heretical and that he is an anti-pope.

Given Pope Francis’s views, I’m not surprised that many conservatives inside and outside of the Church find him unacceptable and would love to see him disappear as soon as possible. And once he is gone, the Church should forget about his heretical social liberalism. As for the Hungarian people, given their attitude to the alien culture of the refugees, I’m sure that they wholeheartedly agree with the critics of Pope Francis.

August 13, 2016

Viktor Orbán’s favorite party failed to gain the Austrian presidency

On Tuesday Viktor Orbán, who seems to have an iron constitution, took the day off because, as his office announced, he was sick. Yesterday a humorous little piece appeared in Sztarklikk with the title: “That’s why Orbán fell ill.” Surely, the author said, Orbán needed to be revived with smelling salts after learning that Norbert Hofer, the candidate of the far-right Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ), had narrowly lost the Austrian presidential election. Well, smelling salts might be a bit of an exaggeration, but Orbán’s disappointment had to be great because it is a well-known fact that Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of FPÖ, and Viktor Orbán greatly admire one another.

At the end of September when Viktor Orbán visited the Austrian chancellor, Werner Faymann (SPÖ), and his deputy, Reinhold Mitterlehner, in order to temper months of quarreling between the two countries, the Hungarian prime minister was also planning to meet Strache. Unfortunately, apparently to the great sorrow of Orbán, the planned meeting had to be cancelled in the last minute. The reason was straightforward enough. Strache is persona non grata in mainstream Austrian political circles, and when the Austrians found out about Orbán’s plans they expressed their strong disapproval. In fact, Deputy Chancellor Mitterlehner, whose party, the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), just like Fidesz, belongs to the EU’s European People’s Party, refused to meet with Orbán if he insisted on going through with his original plan. Reluctantly, Orbán cancelled the meeting.

Apparently Orbán is convinced that Strache is a man of the future. Strache’s threat to build a fence between Austria and Hungary to keep Hungarian workers out of his country didn’t seem to dampen his enthusiasm for the man. Strache might not like Hungarians working in Austria, but several times he expressed his admiration for Orbán, who is “one of the few honest politicians who don’t want to sell out or destroy Europe.” He added that Orbán is the only European politician who has any brains when it comes to the migrant issue.

The Hungarian government has had strained relations with Austrian politicians of the two governing parties, SPÖ and ÖVP. Even a cursory look at the political news of the last few months reveals repeated insults being exchanged between Werner Faymann and Péter Szijjártó. Although Faymann resigned as chancellor on May 9 of this year, most likely to the great relief of Viktor Orbán and Péter Szijjártó, it looks as if his successor, Christian Kern, will be no better from the Hungarian point of view. In fact, I suspect that the new Austrian chancellor will be an even more severe critic of the Hungarian prime minister, whose views are practically identical to those of Heinz-Christian Strache.

A few days ago Kern announced that “it is an illusion to think that the refugee problem can be solved by European countries adopting authoritarian systems as the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has done.” Szijjártó, as is his wont, responded immediately and rashly. According to him, what is an illusion is any hope that with a change in the Austrian chancellorship insults from Austria will cease. Kern’s statement, he said, compared Hungary to Hitler’s Germany. “It is unacceptable for anyone to use expressions in connection with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán that are in any way attached to the most monstrous and darkest dictatorship of the last century.” Not the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Magyar Idők, the government’s fervent supporter and often unofficial spokesman, followed the Austrian presidential race with great interest, keeping fingers crossed for Norbert Hofer. A day before the second round of the presidential election, Magyar Idők was pretty certain that Hofer would win. The paper also noted that The New York Times compared FPÖ to the Hungarian, Polish, and Slovak government parties. (I don’t know whether the author of the article considered this an insult or not.) An opinion piece that appeared on the morning of the presidential election ran under the headline: “The Freedom Party is the symbol of success while the left is that of failure.”

Heinz -Christian Strache and Norbert Hofer before the presidential elections / Photo APA / Hans Klaus

Heinz -Christian Strache and Norbert Hofer before the presidential election / Photo APA / Hans Klaus

After the election Mária Schmidt, a historian who has great influence over Viktor Orbán, bemoaned the fact that public discourse in Austria is now dominated by baby boomer leftist politicians of the pro-German tradition. She recalled that Orbán in his first term was the first foreign leader to receive Chancellor Wolfgang Schlüssel of Austria, who was at that time considered a pariah in the West because he included the Freedom Party of Jörg Haider in his coalition government back in 1999.

Viktor Orbán’s friend Zsolt Bayer is also disappointed, but he is optimistic that “a new healthy young Europe is coming” that will replace the 70-year-old dying Europe that is full of bedsores. This youthful new Europe will come “from the mountains of the Alps, the fields of Burgenland, from Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Poland.” For Bayer, the Freedom Party of Strache and Hofer is not the depository of far-right views but, on the contrary, the embodiment of “normalcy.” So it’s no wonder that Viktor Orbán and his fellow “normal” far-right friends were disappointed by the election results.

May 26, 2016

The good, the evil, and the stork

You may recall my mention of a children’s song, taught in Hungarian kindergartens, about a stork’s leg that was cut by a Turkish boy and healed by a Hungarian child. The topic came up in connection with anti-Islamic propaganda spread by the Orbán government and its hangers-on. While working on the post I discovered an article in which we were assured that such ditties are harmless. Most children at this age cannot generalize and most likely don’t even know the meaning of the word “Turkish.” Later in school they will learn the historical context in which this little song was born.

I never thought I would encounter this topic again so soon, this time in one of the editorials written by Zsolt Bayer, whose notoriety has spread far beyond the borders of Hungary of late. Great was my surprise when I encountered his name in The Washington Post of all places. Michael Gerson, a conservative columnist and former chief speechwriter for George W. Bush, quoted long passages from Zsolt Bayer’s hateful writings against the Roma, which he compared to “Trump’s ugly speech [that] threatens our ideals and our safety.”

But back to the children’s song. Why did it resurface in one of Zsolt Bayer’s editorials? A few days ago in the courtyard of a Catholic school in Jászapáti the dead body of a white stork was found. Its legs had been broken and its head smashed. The public outcry that followed was extraordinary. One reads often enough about brutal murders in Hungarian papers, but “ the crime of the stork murderers”—as one newspaper called the perpetrators—elicited unheard of emotions. A nearby humane society and the district’s member of parliament each offered 100,000 forints to anyone who could lead the police to the “criminals” who should, in their opinion, be locked up for years. As it turned out, there was no need for the reward. The police in no time found the two fifteen-year-olds who were responsible. It was also discovered that the stork had already been injured, and perhaps was even dead, before the boys began their sadistic game. Apparently thousands of storks die or break their wings by flying into power lines. This, it seems, is what happened to this particular stork.

The death of this stork inspired Zsolt Bayer to recall his fond memories of the children’s song about the bad Turkish boy and the good Hungarian child. “Every Hungarian who hears the words ‘Gólya, gólya, gilice!’ can immediately continue ‘Török gyerek megvágta, magyar gyerek gyógyítja.’ That is the Hungarian.” So, being a Hungarian is the embodiment of goodness, decency, and empathy. This what he and his classmates learned from their Hungarian teacher, who happened to be the daughter of a literary historian specializing in the Hungarian narodnik (népies) movement.

To Bayer, the stork is a Hungarian bird, just like the swallow, “because both always return to us. It is their return that makes them mystical in the minds of the Hungarian people. Mystical and similar to ourselves.” These birds are “the wandering Szeklers” who always find their way home and who, regardless of where they happen to be, “see only the steeple of their village’s church.”

After talking about the sadism of children, who can occasionally do terrible things to animals (Dezső Kosztolányi beautifully described killing a toad in his childhood), Bayer continues: “This stork with its broken legs and smashed head is about our society. Because perhaps one could kill a June beetle or a frog. But not a stork. The stork is being healed by the Hungarian child. Or, at least this is my wonderful faith that I have carried with me all along.”

stork

Of course, neither the stork nor the swallow is a “Hungarian bird.” Storks do return to their carefully built nests year after year, but those nests can be practically anywhere in Europe. And Hungarians are not alone in thinking that the returning storks are their very own special birds. The white stork is the unofficial national symbol of both Belarus and Lithuania.

When it comes to invoking the stork as a symbol, it is not this ditty about the Turkish and Hungarian boys that comes to my mind but a famous poem by János Arany titled “The Captive Stork,” written in 1847. It describes a lonely stork standing in the middle of a small plot who would love to fly away, all the way to the seas, but can’t because its wings have been severed. The stork at one point tucks its head under its wing because it is painful to look at other “free storks flying to a better homeland.” But the stork waits and waits. Perhaps one day “it will fly into the sky where the blue of freedom reigns.” At the end, however, the “orphaned stork” realizes that even if its wings grow out, wicked people will cut them back. The original Hungarian can be found online.

Clearly, the stork has a special meaning for Hungarians. Otherwise, it is difficult to explain the incredible reaction to the stork’s death in that schoolyard. Thus, there is most likely a deeper meaning to the old children’s song than meets the eye. In it evil is represented by the Turkish boy who brought trouble to Hungary, while the stork symbolizes the country or the Hungarian people. And, by the way, the song is taught not only in kindergarten but also in first grade. I found on sulinet.hu, a treasure trove of all sorts of information related to teaching and learning, a thorough analysis of both stanzas of the children’s song, including the exact meaning of archaic words and expressions. One thing is sure, this children’s song made an impression on Bayer and most likely on thousands if not millions of others, regardless of what psychiatrists say.

May 14, 2016

Zsolt Bayer: It’s all the Jews’ fault

I have been waiting ever since February 27 for Zsolt Bayer to finish his magnum opus titled “Intolerable,” a series of articles railing against the “fact” that Jews tell the Hungarian people how to interpret their own history. I hoped that after two or three articles Bayer would wrap up his harangue against the evil influence of Jews in Hungarian history, but there is still no end in sight. Today he delivered his fourteenth installment and the third that deals with literary figures’ attraction to Nazi Germany: Ezra Pound, Louis-Férdinand Céline, Gerhart Hauptmann, and Knut Hamsun. All this to prove that anti-Semitism or an affinity with the Nazi ideology shouldn’t be a disqualification for the recognition of greatness. Earlier he quoted anti-Semitic writings from Hungarian classics in defense of the government’s decision to erect memorials to Hungarian interwar politicians like Bálint Hóman and György Donáth. The analogy of course is false because, in the case of Hóman and Donáth, we are talking about active politicians. And surely one cannot compare the groundbreaking modernist poetry of Ezra Pound to Bálint Hóman’s work on numismatics.

Bayer, however, insists that anti-Semitism after 1919 was a “natural” state of mind because of the Jewish preponderance in the leadership of the Soviet Republic. And with this assertion he absolves all anti-Semitism between the two world wars, which admittedly was widespread among writers, especially the Hungarian version of “narodniks” (népiesek). András Nyerges documented this anti-Semitism in Színrebontás (Color separation). Nyerges painstakingly combed through newspapers and periodicals of the interwar period looking for famous writers, especially those who became favorites of the party during the Kádár regime, and found plenty of evidence for both anti-Semitism and in some cases strong sympathy for the Nazi regime. Bayer wants to know why it is that “we forgive the anti-Semitism evoked by the Red Terror and the ‘revolt of the Jews’ of the best, the smartest, the most educated but we can’t forgive the same of the [ordinary Hungarian] people.”

Bayer defends the anti-Semitism of Hungarian villagers. “It is therefore time to ask the question: why are we surprised that the simple peasant whose determinant experience was that the Jews broke into his village, beat his priest to death, threatened to convert his church into a movie theater, why do we find it shocking that twenty years later he watched without pity as the gendarmes dragged the Jews away from his village?” Let’s look at the historical facts. First of all, the “Lenin boys” who showed up in the villages came from various religious backgrounds. For example, their leader, József Czerny, was a Protestant. In fact, of the 14 Lenin boys who were condemned to death on December 18, 1919, only three were listed as “izrealita.” Second, Chief Prosecutor Albert Váry claimed that there were 590 victims of the Red Terror, but later research proved that this number was far too high. Some of the listed victims actually died in battles between “revolutionaries” and “counterrevolutionaries.”

A group of Lenin boys

A group of Lenin boys

A victim of the White Terror

A victim of the White Terror

On the other hand, Miklós Horthy’s detachments killed about 1,200 people. How many of the victims were Jewish it is hard to tell, but from Pál Prónay’s diary we know that he and his detachment were actively looking for people who in their opinion were Jewish. But a lot of poor peasants who found the communist regime, especially at the beginning, attractive were also among the victims. Gergely Bödők’s article “Vörös és Fehér,” available online, reflects the most recent research on the Red and White Terrors in Hungary.

Claiming a causal link between the activities of the “Jewish” Lenin boys and the callous attitude of the Hungarian peasantry when their neighbors were dragged away is preposterous. Yet Bayer places this link at the center of his view on anti-Semitism in Hungary. The connection between the Red Terror and the peasants’ emotionless reaction “is important when we ponder the question of anti-Semitism, which poses further questions. For example, who can have a statue in this country and who can make such a decision.”

Bayer finds “the canonization and glorification of the Hungarian Soviet Republic” one of the greatest sins of the Kádár regime. I who did a lot of research on that period can attest to the fact that the “proper” interpretation of the Soviet Republic had to be strictly observed in those days. By the end of the Kádár period there were few historical taboos, but Béla Kun’s regime was one. Simple facts such as the weakness of the communist party in Hungary at the time couldn’t be included in an article, as I found out from personal experience. Setting things straight after the change of regime would have been easy enough and actually such corrections have taken place through several articles, including one on the Red and White Terrors mentioned earlier. But let’s hear what Bayer has to say on the topic. “We had the misconception following the regime change that everything would be tipped in the right direction. But that’s not happened. The whole thing is simply incomprehensible.”

What is Bayer talking about? There are no taboos today. Free-wheeling historical debates go on unabated. What is it that Bayer finds lacking in interpretations of the Hungarian Soviet Republic? He wants to emphasize the Jewishness of the Hungarian Soviet Republic and to exonerate the White Terror and the anti-Semitism of the interwar period as an understandable reaction. At the same time he would like to see historians rewrite the history of the Horthy regime, which in his opinion was unfairly dealt with by historians of the 1970s and 1980s. But the “liberal” historians today, and they are in the majority, resist the pressure of the Christian-national Orbán government. This is what bothers Zsolt Bayer.

Bayer would like to remove from the Hungarian historical canon not only those who were involved in the Soviet Republic and later in the illegal communist movement but even such greats of Hungarian progressivism as Károly Polányi, Ervin Szabó, Oszkár Jászi, Ilona Duczyńska, and others who were members of the Galilei Circle. I’m pretty sure that he is not alone in Fidesz in holding this view. Since Viktor Orbán formed his government there were several attempts to obliterate these names from the national consciousness. I was actually most surprised to find a couple of streets in Szombathely and Miskolc that bear the name of Oszkár Jászi. If it depended on Bayer, his name would be removed without a second thought. The very fact that streets are named after these people or that Budapest’s public library system is named after Ervin Szabó, who was its first chief librarian, is unbearable to Bayer. These are “tormenting questions.” But what is truly excruciating is how it can happen that “the sins of a real murderer, as long as he is a left-winger and a communist, are forgiven.” The “murderer” to whom he is referring is George Lukács, the philosopher and literary critic who happened to be born in the same year as Bálint Hóman.

March 14, 2016

The afterlife of György Donáth’s bust

I would like to return to the topic of the György Donáth case I wrote about a couple of days ago in a post titled “Another attempt to erect a statue honoring an anti-Semitic racist.” There are at least three reasons for doing so. First, because since the scuffle and the aborted unveiling of the bust there have been new developments that is worth discussing. Second, right-wing publications have been filled with articles full of indignation that a small minority “dictates” the rest of the nation whom it should honor. Third, Ádám Gellért, a legal scholar and a student of history, has taken the trouble and has done some research on Donáth’s political past.

First, the bust of Donáth has been removed. Apparently, Péter Boross, former prime minster (1993-1994) and the man who is an active promoter of the rehabilitation of the “progressive elements” of the Horthy regime, decided that the bust was in danger. Two days ago I expressed my suspicion that, just as in case of Bálint Hóman’s statue, it was likely that the government contributed money for the memorial. My feeling about the source of money was correct, a fund, established by the Orbán government, contributed 15 million forints toward the cost of the bust. Boross thinks that the Donáth bust on the building where Donáth once lived at the corner of Páva utca and Üllői út is not a safe place because it would be defaced. They will erect is somewhere else considered safer.

Donath2

Only the pedestal is left

Compare that reaction to the government’s response to the erection of the memorial for the victims of the German occupation of March 19, 1944 when Viktor Orbán, ignoring the domestic and international protest, insisted its erection even if it had to be done in secret in the middle of the night. Perhaps because of the lessons learned from the Hóman controversy, the government decided on an early retreat. The other possibility is that in the Donáth case Viktor Orbán was not personally involved and therefore Boross and others could make independent decisions. In any case, it was the right step in the right direction although it would have been much smarter to forget about György Donáth’s bust altogether.

Second, quite a few opinion pieces appeared in the far-right press that expressed the authors’ outrage at the Hungarian left’s and the Jewish community’s condemnation of a man who was “the first victim of the Stalinist-type show trials” and who at his trial testified that his name in no way can be connected to anti-Semitism. Moreover, again quoting from Donáth’s last plea, he disapproved of both national socialism and fascism. According to the author, Sándor Faggyas, a right-wing journalist currently working at Magyar Hírlap, “Donáth’s cardinal sin,” according to the ignorant and hysterical left, “was that he had been a Christian politician who defended the Hungarian people and who participated in the secret organization called Magyar Közösség.” We will see later that Faggyas was mistaken on both accounts.

Naturally, Zsolt Bayer, the professional anti-Semite and old friend of Orbán with a long Fidesz past from the very beginnings of the party, couldn’t have remained quiet when a good Christian is being maligned by “the descendants of the rubble of 1919 and 1945, who if they could would kill again with pleasure just as their predecessors did,” furtively pointing the finger at Hungarian Jewry. It is intolerable that Hungarians are forced to view history through the “annals of Jewish sufferings.” Bayer promised us a second installment of his opinion piece titled “Intolerable.” I assume he will continue to quote from Donáth’s last plea that indeed showed great bravery.

I indicated in my first piece on Donáth that we know very little about the man aside from his involvement in Magyar Közösség. Several books or chapters of books were devoted to that secret organization but no one has searched through documents looking for Donáth’s political views prior to 1945. Because of the favorable impression his plea made on those who studied the story of the Közösség drew a favorable portrait of him. However, even on the basis of these available secondary sources I had an uneasy feeling that Donáth’s life most likely has a very dark side. I suggested that someone close to the available sources should do some serious research and write at least a longish scholarly article on the man’s past. Well, the first step was taken by Ádám Gellért yesterday when he published an article full of quotations from Donáth’s speeches delivered in parliament. Clearly, this is just a first stab at learning more about Donáth because in addition being a member of parliament, he was also the publisher of an extreme right-wing magazine, Egyedül Vagyunk (We are alone) and therefore he must have written scores of opinion pieces for the magazine. Egyedül Vagyunk was a notorious anti-Semitic publication whose editorial board included such war criminals as Béla Imrédy, Andor Jaross, and Ferenc Rajniss, who all were condemned to death in 1946. Andor Jaross was in charge of the deportation of Hungary’s Jewish citizens to Auschwitz where most of them were murdered. These were the people Donáth kept company with. After the fall of the Szálasi regime Donáth was arrested but after a few months was let go.

On the basis of the quotes Gellért unearthed we can safely say that despite Donáth’s protestation he was both an anti-Semite and a follower of the Hungarian version of national socialism or fascism, Ferenc Szálasi’s Arrow Cross Party. He imagined the establishment of a “Hungarian Empire” (birodalom) which would “in its size” equal Hungary before 1918 but in contents it would be very different. It would be built on truly Hungarian traditions. He considered “national socialism or fascism” vastly superior to democracy because the former ones are better suited for the creation of “a healthy hierarchy.” What did he mean by “healthy hierarchy”? It seems that what he actually had in mind was the exclusion of all Jews which the first anti-Jewish law in his opinion didn’t ensure. Stricter laws were necessary which were already under preparation and which “will perhaps achieve better results.” He was thinking about the second anti-Jewish law

When Béla Varga of the Smallholders Party spoke against an amendment to the marriage law that forbade marriage between Jews and Gentiles Donáth became truly animated. Varga thought that “50% of Hungarian blood, plus the sacrament of baptism surely can balance the 50% Jewish blood” Donáth exclaimed: “The Negro will not become white either.” Or when liberal Károly Rassay argued against the second anti-Jewish law, pointing out that it is against the interests of the nation and that “it is impossible to speak of a pure Magyar race” Donáth interjected: “Unfortunately! Not pure. We must purify it! We will purify it!” Or, Donáth didn’t consider the ban on mixed marriages quite satisfactory because it didn’t specifically cover children born out of wedlock. This omission, he argued, “on the one hand, gives encouragement to sexual intercourse outside of marriage and, on the other doesn’t punish its evasion.”

During the debate on the third anti-Jewish law he made a fairly long speech out of which I will quote some of the most important sentences. Donáth was describing the difficulties the Imrédy government had to face when hundreds of laws had to be enacted during a very short time, “making up for the omissions of 20-50 or even 100 years.” All that has to be done in the middle of the war and during the building a new Hungarian empire. “We must bring up a new generation of the intelligentsia … now that a large segment of the present intellectual elite is being excluded as in our opinion, these people should have no place among Hungarian intellectuals.” Let’s face it, György Donáth was a maniacal anti-Semite. Not what Zsolt Bayer tried to make him at the end of his article. “Was György Donáth an anti-Semite? Yes, he was. Just as other innumerable great and talented men without whom no Hungarian culture and history would exist: Sándor Petőfi, Ferenc Herczeg, Dezső Kosztolányi, Sándor Márai, László Németh, Gyula Illyés, and Zsigmond Móricz.” How Petőfi could be listed here is beyond me because Petőfi in fact raised his voice against German citizens of Pest who refused to accept Jews into the national guard.

According to Bayer, the accusation of anti-Semitism is often unfounded. Surely, in case of György Donáth it wasn’t. But as far as Bayer is concerned “the Jews who were unfortunately overrepresented in the revolt of the rats and the mass murderers in 1919—against the will and the wishes of the majority of Jews–themselves ‘succeeded’ to gain the deep antipathy and anger of the majority.” In this all these outstanding Hungarians’ anti-Semitism is perfectly understandable.

February 27, 2016

Poland at a crossroads?

After spending three days on domestic affairs, today I will concentrate on the Polish-Hungarian-European Union triangle, with a quick look at Putin’s Russia.

There is no question that Jarosław Kaczyński has been an excellent student of Viktor Orbán. The new Szydło government is copying the Orbán model step by step, just at an accelerated pace. While it took the slower-moving Orbán machinery two or three years to achieve its desired results, the eager Poles thought that a few months would suffice. It didn’t take long for Polish foreign minister Witold Waczczykowski to announce a change in the country’s foreign policy. The Szydło government will not follow its predecessor’s policy of acquiescence toward the European Union, he said. As a result of Polish belligerence, most commentators were certain that Brussels would act quickly and without hesitation. If the European Union opts to avoid a confrontation, the same thing will happen in Poland as happened in Hungary, where Orbán’s political system has solidified to the point that it may last for decades. Poland is too important a country to allow this to occur.

Cass Mudde of the University of Georgia wrote an article in the Huffington Post in which he suggested that “the success of PiS in Poland could turn out to be a poisoned chalice for Orbán” because of the possibility of EU sanctions not just against Poland but against Hungary as well.” As we know, however, Orbán made it clear on January 8 that “it’s not worth it for the European Union to rack its brains over any sanction against Poland because that would require full agreement. Never will Hungary support any sanction against Poland.”

A few days later Kim Lane Scheppele pointed out that a veto by Hungary could easily be neutralized. In an article that appeared on January 11 in politico.eu she sketched out a possible legal action that would take care of Viktor Orbán’s threat of a veto. Here is her scheme:

Sanctions require a unanimous vote of the European Council, minus the offending state, meaning Hungary does have a veto.

But Article 7 includes two separate parts: a warning system outlined in Article 7(1) and the sanctions mechanism of Article 7(2)-(3). The only way to keep the threat of sanctions on the table under Article 7(2) is for European institutions to act against both Poland and Hungary at the same time by invoking Article 7(1) first.

Those who were certain that this time the European Commission would not choose the road of appeasement as it did in the case of Hungary were correct. On January 13 the Commission launched a probe into policy changes in Poland that may clash with EU law. This is an unprecedented move with serious implications. For example, it could lead to the application of Article 7 of the Treaty of the European Union.

In the wake of the announcement of the probe, the Poles even copied Orbán, who took up the challenge and faced a very angry European Parliament in 2012. Prime Minister Beata Szydło announced that she would attend the debate on Poland in the European Parliament and defend her government’s right to make changes in the structure of the constitutional court and the media. Her speech was very East European in flavor. In addition to repeating several times that Poland is as much a part of the EU as the other 27 countries, she said that Brussels, instead of “rounding on Poland, ought to be looking to engage with a country with a troubled history and which had fought at great cost for its freedom.” These words could easily have been uttered by Viktor Orbán himself. It is still too early to know what the reaction to Szydło’s speech will be, but people in the know in Brussels are certain that “the stage is set for a ‘carnage’ in the European Parliament.”

Szydlo

Beata Szydło in the European Parliament, January 19, 2016

There have, however, been voices in the western media that have cautioned the European Commission in its handling of Poland. As early as January 13, the day the European Commission decided on a monitoring procedure against Warsaw, The New York Times came out with an editorial which claimed that “punishing Poland through sanctions would be counterproductive and even hypocritical, given the proliferation of like-minded parties across Europe,” the logic of which escapes me, I’m afraid.

What the editors of The New York Times think about Polish-EU relations is neither here nor there, but what Donald Tusk thinks is something else. After all, he is the president of the European Council who is supposed to represent the interests of the Union and not the country of his birth. But although Tusk is a political adversary of Kaczyński, he felt compelled to come to Poland’s rescue. His move was interpreted by The Financial Times as a break “with the rest of the EU’s leadership … by questioning Brussels’ decision to launch a formal review into whether Poland’s new media and judicial legislation violate the rule of law.” He declared that the EU can clarify the situation in Poland “by other methods, not necessarily triggering this procedure.” He didn’t elaborate what these other methods might be.

Meanwhile, in Hungary Viktor Orbán is most likely eagerly watching what’s going on in Brussels. Will the Poles be persuaded to abandon their revolutionary zeal under domestic and foreign pressure? There are signs that President Andrzej Duda (PiS) and other PiS officials began a campaign a few days ago to ease tensions between Poland and the European Commission. If they succeed, Viktor Orbán will not be a happy man because he is counting on the formation of a large eastern bloc of 90 million people as something of an alliance against the core countries in Western Europe. Naturally, such a bloc without Poland is worth nothing.

This kind of fear is reflected in one of Zsolt Bayer’s articles titled “Lengyelek” (The Poles). After recalling all the humiliation and treachery Poland has suffered through her history at the hands of the western powers, especially the United States, Bayer doesn’t understand “Polish devotion to the United States.” Poland must choose. Either they follow Hungary’s example or they will end up with the same “base, unjust, unbearable and unacceptable harassment that Hungary had to suffer.” Poland must be careful, Bayer warns, because it is clear that the United States has been hard at work trying to persuade Poland to loosen its ties with the alliance system Viktor Orbán managed to create from the formerly ineffectual Visegrád4 group. If a 90-million strong Eastern Bloc materializes, it will be the center of a “normal” Europe as opposed to the “mentally deranged West.” So, a lot depends on Poland, a country that should be grateful to Hungary because of Hungary’s generosity toward her in her times of peril. “There is no war yet but the situation is very serious. We should not let them drive a wedge between us.”

After reading Bayer’s lines about the possibility of a war in Europe, one wonders about the psychological state of some of the Fidesz leaders who lately have been discussing ways of strengthening the military capabilities of the country. László Kövér went so far as to talk about “the catastrophe of abolishing compulsory military service” in 2004. Do they really think that war is going to break out in Europe sometime in the near future? Possibly.

Finally, a friendly warning to Poland. Putin is delighted with the growth of right-wing radicalism and the recent emphasis on the sovereignty of nation states within the European Union, as Vladislav Inozemtsev of The Moscow Times, points out. “The events in Europe are being seen with undisguised joy” in Russia. “The Kremlin supports and will support the ultra-right and ultra-left parties who seek to put Europeans back to their ‘private apartments.’” So, going along with Viktor Orbán will be useful to Poland’s archenemy, Russia. The leaders of PiS should think very seriously whether they want to play into the hands of Vladimir Putin or not. Yes, they do have a choice.

September 19, 2016